The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850
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The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  705 ratings  ·  111 reviews
The Little Ice Age tells the story of the turbulent, unpredictable, and often very cold years of modern European history, how this altered climate affected historical events, and what it means for today's global warming. Building on research that has only recently confirmed that the world endured a 500year cold snap, renowned archaeologist Brian Fagan shows how the increas...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published December 27th 2001 by Basic Books (first published 2000)
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Emma Sea
My favourite kind of pop-science writing! This is so easy to read, and supported by a ton of references and further reading without unbearably cluttering up the text. The only part which I'd rate less then 5 stars is the conclusion. I'm not sure if Fagan's publishers wouldn't let him write something more realistic, but the notion that humans will suddenly decide to "work for the global rather than the national good, for the welfare of our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren rather than to satis...more
Libby
I like to think that I know a lot about history. Periodically, authors like Brian Fagan teach me how much more there is to know. This book is bursting with information about how the Medieval period I thought I understood,was formed and influenced by factors I didn't know or didn't understand. Let's start with style. Fagan is a dynamic writer. He moves his narrative along swiftly and surely like a championship skier on a difficult downhill. We get the thrills and not the spills. When I say thrill...more
Sarah
Technically I did not finish this, since I had to take it back to the library before I could finish the last three chapters, but I did skim them. So, I read this book. In its entirety. Don't try to talk me out of it.

Very informative! It seems that weather gets ignored a lot in history, when weather played a pretty big role in deciding the survival of life itself in the pre-industrial world. The only time it gets mentioned, really, is when it plays a large role in some single struggle, like the w...more
Caroline Caldwell
A well researched, but definitely biased, look at the interaction between humans and the natural world we inhabit. I felt a little talked down to and manipulated by the direction of the narrative, but the facts are interesting. I just wish he would have left out the diatribe at the end about how global warming was going to do crazy stuff and we aren't doing anything to stop it. It was immature on his part. I think it is much more powerful to let the facts to speak for themselves. I appreciate th...more
Jessica
The amount of time Fagan must have spent in dark and dusty European archives blows my mind. His research uncovers forgotten records in amazing detail. Unfortunately, the book could use an equally fastidious editor. Very interesting, if poorly organized. I still recommend it, though!
Kristin
I'm a climatologist reading a book on climate by an anthropologist, so I'm going to be skeptical. I enjoyed the history of agricultural development in Europe and the North Atlantic, especially passages such as this:

"Filthy, clad in rags, barely surviving on a diet of bread, cheese, and water, the rural worker of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain was a far cry from the attractive, apple-cheeked villager so beloved of artists and greeting card companies." [page 146]

I was less satisfied wi...more
Bibliophile
Brian M. Fagan's The Little Ice Age is a fascinating general history of Europe that focuses on the role of climate change (specifically, the five and a half centuries of extreme cold and unsettled weather that affected Northern Europe from 1300 to 1850.) The book is strongest when Fagan focuses the early parts about the Medieval Warm Period and the abrupt changes in that occurred in the 14th century; the later chapters are more cursory, although the history of agriculture in 18th century France...more
Al Sevcik
Weather during the (roughly) 500 years of the Little Ice Age – from 1400 to 1900 was not uniformly cold. It was erratic with hot and dry spells interspersed with bitter cold, and an overall average temperature several degrees colder than before or after. Most people (in Western Europe) were farmers who barely grew enough food in one season to tide them over until the next. A year or two of bad harvests meant that tens and hundreds of thousands would die of starvation and of disease resulting fro...more
Sandra Strange
So often the forces that shape history are barely acknowledged in history courses. Here's an example: the little ice age which determined SO MUCH of what happened politically, socially and economically from 1300 to 1850! And as a history major, I had NEVER heard anyone mention it! This interesting account will give insight into how much weather shapes history.
Lucy Pollard-Gott
Clear explanations of historical climate dynamics, as far as climatologists understand them, for the layman. If you are curious about the Medieval Warm Period, which enabled Viking ships to navigate northern waters to the British Isles, Iceland, and North America, this is the scientific history for you. But this only prepares the reader for the shock of the Little Ice Age, nearly 500 years of cooling and erratic growing seasons (sometimes too wet and warm, paradoxically) that led to great famine...more
Dana Stabenow
A dossier on a 550-year European cold snap compiled from tree rings, ice cores, and the accounts of country clergymen and gentlemen scientists. Do we make the weather, or does it make us?

Because the Arctic ice pack receded during the Medieval Warm Period, Fagan writes, the Vikings invaded Europe from England to Tuscany and even Constantinople. Because the Arctic ice pack receded the Atlantic cod moved north and provided a food source for regular trips to Greenland, which the Vikings then coloniz...more
Timothy Riley
There is some really great, well researched information here about plagues, famines, droughts, ice storms, etc. I got the drift that some nations have been more affected than others because of the crops they choose-or have access to. Britain was able to largely avoid the later famines while France was not. Britain was able to depend on the potato a great deal-obviously the irish famine could have been largely avoided had the British not been so nonchalant about the deaths of 1 million people.

I...more
Dale
Nice little book marred by the insertion of a unnecessary global warming chapter.

Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 is, by definition, an introduction to the climate phenomenon of the same name. Actually, it is quite similar to a History Channel documentary of the same name. On page xix Fagan notes that historians are either "parachutists" (big picture) or "truffle hunters" (love all of the details of one particular era or topic). Fagan warns that this is a pa...more
Margaret Sankey
Using climate modeling based on ice cores and tree rings, archaeologist Brian Fagan tracks the social and economic effects of the chilling, centuries-long turn in the weather over Western Europe during the critical period of 1300-1850. From the wet summers that created sickly people for the coming black plague, the mud of Agincourt, the rise of the Hansa, the collapse of the Greenland colony, silting of crucial medieval ports and the opening of others, the brutality of subsistence farming, death...more
Dree
Fascinating overview of climate cooling/warming from 1300-1850 (with additional info up through the 1970s). Focus is on Northern Europe--England, Ireland, France, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, with additional info from around the world to illustrate worldwide cooling/warming.

For me, two things are especially interesting:
--Fagan describes the climate-driven enclosure process in England, which left the poor with no access to land, and describes their becoming very poor farm laborers, driving im...more
Dan
Since I've first learned about the climatic features of this period of time, I've wanted to read this book. I found The Little Ice Age to be very informative and interesting. It was a shorter, quicker read than I expected, but it was well researched with many first person accounts. It leans more toward social science references rather than physical science references which I found unbalanced. Mr. Fagan's doomsday warning at the end came as no surprise to me. It did have a tinge of hope for human...more
Ashley Cunningham
For whatever reason, the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age are an interesting topic to me, so when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, I figured it would be an informative read.

It was an interesting read. I liked getting the big picture of these two climate periods, and Fagan's writing kept me going on. His list of the powerful storms and the political and social chaos often associated with unstable weather was eye-opening and sobering. I also liked how Fagan showed how t...more
Mike
Very good book on the impact of climate on human culture and some events, especially in Northern Europe which is the region for which we have the most record keeping relating to climate. The book gives a narrative of the changes in atmospheric patterns during the Middle Ages and how that affected the seasonal weather in Europe. It then relates those changes to the course of European history, especially their impact on the food supply


Since medieval Europe was primarily an agricultural society, ch...more
L.
I am typically a fan of Fagan's work and have enjoyed some of his books in the past, this one however, fell flat for me. While the subject matter was obviously well researched I found many of the connections drawn between different periods and different geographic areas shaky and not particularly beneficial to the continuity of the overarching subject matter. I realize that the little ice age had many contributing factors and took place over a large span of time however, it was very easy to forg...more
Stephen
I recently read Brian Fagan's The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850. It's an odd blend of history and science, and chronicles a long and weary succession of droughts, famines, plagues, and death. Small wonder the Calvinists subscribed to such a vicious god: if I'd lived through these years I'd start to think someone was out to get me, too. Fagan doesn't try to make a case for the age being caused by one thing: although there are meteorological cycles to consider, the timespan w...more
Jennah
I really enjoy books like this. Ones that paint a new light on historical events and demonstrate new ways of looking at those events. It's not that this books says that the weather patterns described are the real cause of historical events, but that they have a significant impact on the results of those events and should be a recognized factor.

It's evident that in recollections or historical articles the weather itself is simply a footnote in the annuls of singular battles or famines. However,...more
M.J.
I have seen Mr. Fagan lecture (and enjoyed his lectures), so I was looking forward to hear his take on the role of climate in human history. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, but it has been resting on my desk waiting for its review. Perhaps it is because I am conflicted about the book that the review has been so hesitant in coming. I wanted to like The Little Ice Age more than I actually did.

Between 1300 and 1850 the world endured a cold snap that was unseen since the Ice Age. This "l...more
Absurdfarce
An interesting little book that never quite lives up to it's title. Fagan chronicles the climactic conditions which made the "little ice age" possible as well as some of the historical events which occur over the same time period. Unfortunately the link between these two concepts is always somewhat murky. To some degree this isn't terribly surprising; many factors having nothing to do with weather influence historical events and it would be flat-out wrong to suggest that climate change "caused"...more
Peter
The author carefully detailed the weather fluctuations since the medieval warm period. The author clearly believes that CO2 emissions are causing global warming, but is honest enough to present some of the evidence to the contrary. For example right now the sun is producing the most radiation that has been recorded. It is possible that part of our observed warm up is from that.

Also the medieval warm period seems like it was warmer than today. Wine was produced in England, it isn't today. Also i...more
Nora Hanagan
The topic of this book—how climate changes shaped European history—is fascinating and I learned a great deal. I thought, however, that the book skipped around a lot, going back and forth in time almost randomly. The chapter organization was difficult to follow. Very informative nonetheless. Also depressing. Not a vacation book.
Brian
Given that the so much of human life had been concerned with farming and feeding itself, studying the effect of weather is to review the practice of farming. How did pre-industrial developments increase food supply, and increase diversity such that weather events don't destroy all of the crop. Interwoven are the observations about crop planting and fishing in particular regions that informs us about the weather at that time. If cod were available, the water temperature was in this range. If grap...more
Jrobertus
This book describes the climate change that occurred beginning around 1315 and lasting until the nineteenth century. The author uses contemporary science and its tools along with written records, mainly from England, to reveal how the climate cooled, and dampened. Crop yields fell, and since the vast majority of those societies lived at the subsistence level, devastating famines occurred and there was basically no backup. In addition, wars, like the Hundred Years War, and the plague added to the...more
Tyler
If the author can't take the time to properly organize his writing, I don't have the time to read it. It sounds like he did a lot of research and fully convinced himself, then vomited out a rambling list of anecdotes organized vaguely chronologically and geographically.

I'm not trying to claim I would have done a better job; I'm sure my thesis reads somewhat similarly (at least in terms of the rambling anecdotes. I'm pretty sure I gave mine a better overall structure), but since a total of 5 peop...more
Jeff
Overall, a pretty good book. The book dealt with the ramifications in Europe and America of the Little Ice Age period. What I found interesting were the non-made made factors that affect climate change and how they are being brushed aside today with the global warming craze in full tilt. It was depressing to read how, right up to the 1900's, man blamed / credited supernatural beings for their problems / prosperity. But I guess that's how things operated before people understood science and natur...more
Misterd11
In this age when Know-Nothing anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-fact Republicans claim that global warming is a hoax and place our world in peril as a result, this book puts climate change in historical context. The data is indisputable: tree rings, ice cores, vineyard records. The historical impact of weather shifts is there if anyone cares to look: famines, which lead (if indirectly) to war & political upheaval. Parts of this book are almost too painful to get through - I am thinking of t...more
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Brian Murray Fagan is an author of popular archaeology books and emeritus professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Prof. Fagan is an archaeological generalist, with expertise in the broad issues of human prehistory. He is the author or editor of 46 books, including seven widely used undergraduate college texts.

Additional information at Wikipedia.
More about Brian M. Fagan...
Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt (Revised and Updated) Archaeology: A Brief Introduction

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